6 tips for starting a mastermind group in higher education

people participating in a facilitated meetingOver the past few years, I have participated in and facilitated several different types of mastermind groups (MMG) within and outside of higher education. (If you are not sure what a MMG is, see my earlier post here).

Most recently, I designed and co-facilitated an in-person MMG for educators in the first-year experience (FYE). The group was open to anyone who identified as an educator of students who are in their first year of an undergraduate degree. In this particular offering, there were 9 participants and the group was comprised of faculty members and staff at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver campus).

Given my positive experience with MMG, and the growing interest within the POD Network, I wanted to share some resources that will help you start your own.

Tips for the set-up phase

Here is a list of tips I have compiled to make the facilitator’s life easier in the setup phase:

1. Be as clear as possible about the purpose of the MMG when you advertise it. See here for how we articulated the purpose and structure for the MMG for FYE. In your introductory text, you may wish to:

  • define what a MMG is and isn’t (and, possibly, address some people’s aversion to the term?)
  • briefly explain what a spotlight is since it is a key feature of MMG

2. Once you have determined the purpose of your MMG, decide on the number of meetings and frequency of your meetings. We found that 4 meetings, every 2 weeks, worked well for this MMG. Meeting every 2 weeks allow the group’s energy to be sustained without overwhelming people with weekly commitments.

3. Set meeting dates/times ahead of time if (like me) you have an aversion to Doodle polls and to spending a lot of time trying to accommodate multiple people’s schedules. I found it easier to have the dates/times (and room bookings) pre-determined so that potential participants could easily ascertain whether they were available.

4. Begin to advertise the MMG approximately 2 months before the start date. This will give you a chance to promote it, answer questions from interested parties, and will augment the chances that people can block off the time in their calendar.

5. Consider a 2-step application process. For the MMG for Educators in the FYE, the first step asked potential participants to confirm that they could make 3 of the 4 meetings and that they were, in fact, actively involved in the FYE. The second step allowed me to reach back out to people and clarify anything that needed clarification and/or to immediately “accept” their application. See here for the wording/messaging that appeared on the CTLT website.

6. Specify whether the group is closed or open and who (if anyone) has permission to invite other participants. My preference is for a closed group that is consistent throughout the duration of the MMG.

I will be sharing more in a future post. If you have any questions, please reach out to me at isabeau(dot)iqbal(at)ubc(dot)ca. I am sure I’ve forgotten some details that would be helpful to others.

Connected Teaching (short book review)

This post was written for “What we’re reading“, a feature in the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology’s Dialogues newsletter.

It is a short review of “Connected Teaching” by Harriet Schwartz, PhD.

Book cover for Connected Teaching by Harriet Schwartz


In post-secondary teaching and learning, relationships matter.

They matter as much as (and possibly more than) course design, proper use of technology and other elements we typically associate with promoting understanding and “good teaching.”

Given my interest in the role of emotions in teaching and learning, I was eager to read Connected Teaching by Harriet Schwartz, PhD.

This book addresses the significance of the connection between students and faculty members and explores “teaching as a relational practice.” Drawing from Relational Cultural Theory (a theory Schwartz helps her reader learn about throughout the book), the author argues that “we are at our best when we have the capacity to engage and maintain growth-fostering relationships”. These relationships need not be long-term and can occur even in a single meaningful interaction.

Connected teaching, Schwartz describes, consists of five elements: energy, knowledge, sense of worth, action and desire for more connection. She proposes that care, presence, invitation and enthusiasm are essential elements of connected teaching because they convey to students that they matter and that their challenges are real.

What I especially appreciated about this book is that Schwartz does not depict connection as an easy process or a given. She writes honestly about disconnection, power, shame, blind spots and boundaries. That is, she is upfront about the challenges involved as we aim to build connection(s) with our learners.

What remains most with me about this book is Schwartz’s compelling messages about mattering and how it is central to connected teaching. Her work echoes other scholars’ work (see, for example, The Undergraduate Experience: Focusing Institutions on What Matters Most by Felten et al.), who have highlighted the importance of creating a sense of belonging to student learning. To “matter,” reminds Schwartz, is to feel we have a place in others’ lives, and our presence makes a difference to them.

If you are keen to explore the role of connection in teaching and learning, I recommend Connected Teaching.

Interested in learning more about Connected Learning before reading the book? Listen to this Teaching in Higher Ed podcast episode where Harriet Schwartz discusses her book.

Schwartz, H. L. (2019). Connected Teaching: Relationship, Power, and Mattering in Higher Education. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

Teaching philosophy statements – Q&A with faculty members

I facilitated a short session on teaching philosophy statements (TPS) for participants in the Teaching Development Program (TDP) for New Faculty.

Based on requests from the TDP cohort members, I focussed specifically on:

  1. Looking at examples of strong TPSs
  2. Identifying belief statements in the opening and body of the 4 selected TPS samples
  3. Identifying alignment between beliefs and statements of evidence (evidence being “how I enact my beliefs”).

During the session, participants asked a number of questions. I have captured these questions and my brief responses below in case they may be helpful to others.

Q: How do I make my TPS different from other people’s TPSs? I’m worried that mine will read like everybody else’s.

ii: I guarantee that your TPS will be unique! Because you bring your own experiences, your disciplinary background, and your own content to the TSP—not to mention your personal writing style—it will read differently than your peers’ EVEN if you share similar beliefs.

Q: How many beliefs is too many or too few to include in a TPS?

ii: There is no specific number of beliefs that a reader expects to see in a TPS. Thinking in terms of themes may be helpful; you may want to use headers to guide your reader.

Q: How much do we need to ground our TPS in research/literature, or is it truly what I think and have done?

ii: The emphasis should be on what you think and have done. However, it is considered good practice to integrate a few references to the pedagogical literature as this shows that you take a scholarly approach to your teaching.

Q: Is it better to err on the side of using general terms or providing specific examples? For example, does it suffice to say that I use experiential education approaches or should be get specific?

ii: My preference is for the author to include a few specific examples that help me “see” them in action. If, for example, you use “experiential education” in your teaching, provide a specific example as evidence for how it aligns with your beliefs about teaching and learning and/or your beliefs about knowledge.

Q: Is it good practice to provide excerpts and detailed examples of what we’ve done?

Detailed examples will go into your appendices or in the Teaching Activities section of your dossier.

Q: Should we include a future looking statement?

ii: Many people highlight their goals and commitment to continuous growth in their teaching philosophy statement. Some people have it in the TPS and as a section of their teaching dossier. I like seeing a short version in the TPS and a more expanded version in the full dossier. Again, that’s my preference. It doesn’t mean that’s the “right” way to do it.

Q: Do I need to provide a summary statement in my TPS?

No, you don’t.


(This post was originally written for and published on the BC Campus Online Reading Club site). The book being referenced is Small Teaching by Dr. James Lang.


I was attracted to facilitating this chapter because, as a learner, I make minimal use of self-explanation and was curious to see how it might “serve” me to do so more often in my educational developer role and as I consult with faculty members.


10/365 Spiral by clogsilk


What is self-explaining and does it work?

(The nutshell and punchline for those who are pressed for time and/or impatient.)

The basic premise of self-explanation is that learners benefit from explaining out loud to themselves or others what they are doing during the completion of a learning task.  The best self-explanation techniques prompt learners to articulate what they are doing and why they are doing it.

Lang concludes this chapter by pointing out that research has yielded mixed results when it comes to the learning benefits of self-explanation; in some cases, learners with minimal knowledge of a subject benefit, whereas in other cases it is those with more knowledge who benefit.

How self-explaining works

In previous chapters, Lang underscored that mindful practice and mindful learning during practice foster learning and retention.

Self-explanation is a technique for fostering mindful learning during practice. It can help with that vexing problem of far transfer (or lack thereof)–that ability to carry theories or principles from the initial context to a new context.

Self-explanation can also help improve the learner’s comprehension when it requires individuals to make connections between their knowledge and their skills.

Summarizing research done in this field, Lang writes that the practices below foster learning during self-explaining.


  • tie specific problems to general principles and connect knowing and doing
  • monitor their own comprehension and can admit to being stuck
  • actively seek to fill in the gaps in their understanding when they feel stuck
  • are able to re-state different aspects of the problem in their own words

Self-explanation fosters learning because this approach helps learners:

  1. “Fill gaps and make inferences in learning productive ways” .
  2. “Modify and improve their existing perceptions or knowledge of a subject matter” (p.147)

Does self-explaining that is prompted by instructors foster learning?

One of the questions that especially piqued my curiousity in this chapter is the one that asks “Do self-explanations that are generated by teacher prompts have the same effect as self-explanations that are spontaneously generated by students?” (p.143).

According to the research that Lang reviewed, self-explanations generated by teacher prompts enhance learning and understanding when students receive immediate feedback.

The small teaching strategy that was cited several times in this chapter, as an example of a teacher-generated prompt, was that of asking students to select, from a drop-down menu, what principles are at play. When prompts are inserted into an assignment at key points, students must reflect on how certain principles are being applied in a specific context. This then helps with the issue of transfer because it requires students to make inference rules.

Citing Chi, Bassok, Lewis, Reiman, and Glaser (p. 178, 1989) Lang writes “Inference rules ‘spell out more clearly the specific conditions or situations in which a specific action is to be taken.’”

Ways to use self-explaining in your teaching

“When using self-explaining, create opportunities that require students to select or articulate principles as they are making choices, searching for solutions, or revising their work” (p.156).

  • Ask students some variation of “Why are you doing that?” as you walk around the class while students are working on their own. (I think this would need to be carefully set up so it doesn’t terrify the students).  (similar to “think aloud” below).
  • Model self-explanation by using the “think-aloud” method as you read a passage or work through a problem. Alternatively, ask students to think out loud as they make decisions (p.154-155 or see Teaching Strategies: Think Alouds [geared to K-12, but useful]).
  • Use a drop-down menu at multiple points during an assignment to prompt students to reflect on the underlying principle at play. Doing so will, ideally, guide their next step.
  • Find ways to provide immediate feedback to students when they are engaging in self-explanation.
  • Scaffold this approach so it does not “over-tax” the students’ brains.
  • Use a “backward fading” approach in which students first observe a problem being worked out, next work out 1-2 steps on their own, and then complete the problem entirely on their own (see p.148 or Teaching with Worked Examples – Save learner time and effort while increasing performance!). (p.148)
  • Ask students to select X (e.g., 3 slides, or one particular section of an assignment) and write a short explanation of their choice. (p.152)
  • Incorporate self-explanation into peer instruction (p.152-153).

1.  I have bolded select in the quote above because it was found that selecting, rather than generating, fostered learning. When students had to generate the principles, it added to their cognitive load in a way that was unproductive (see p.149 for more).

Does good student-faculty rapport enhance student learning?

Over the past few months, I have collaborated with faculty members from the Faculty of Arts to do two panel presentations on the topic of student-faculty rapport.

As I prepared for those sessions, I looked into the connections between learning and student-faculty rapport.

For those who are impatient to know whether rapport can enhance student learning, I’ll go straight to my findings: unsurprisingly, research to date has not been able to draw a direct link between rapport and learning.

Though strong faculty-student rapport may not ’cause’ enhanced learning, it helps create conditions conducive to learning.

The literature I reviewed consistently reports that faculty-student rapport results in:

  • higher student motivation
  • increased student participation in class
  • perceptions of increased program quality (from the students’ perspective)
  • greater course satisfaction among students
  • enhanced communication and understanding between students and faculty members

(Frisby & Martin, 2010; Granitz, Koernig & Harich, 2009; McInnis Brown & Starrett, 2017; Wilson & Ryan, 2012)

The above is a compelling list of reasons to pay attention to this aspect of teaching and learning!

Below are the slides I developed for the panel sessions; for anyone interested, there is an extensive list of references at the end. You can view the entire slide deck by clicking on the link below the image. Please note that you are welcome to use and modify these slides (with attribution).


Frisby, B. N., & Martin, M. M. (2010). Instructor–student and student–student rapport in the classroom. Communication Education, 59(2), 146-164.

Granitz, N. A., Koernig, S. K., and Harich, K. R. (2009). Now it’s personal: Antecedents and outcomes of rapport between business faculty and their students. Journal of Marketing Education, 31 (1), 52-65.

McInnis Brown, M. & Starrett, T. (2017). Fostering student connectedness: Building relationships in the classroom. Retrieved from:

Wilson, J. & Ryan, R. (2012). Developing student-teacher rapport in the undergraduate classroom. In W. Buskist & V.A. Benassi (Eds.) Effective College and University Teaching: Strategies and Tactics for the New Professoriate, 81-90 Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Photo Credit: https: // Professor MaryCarol Huner and Katie Dennis discuss her 3-D model of “Daily Domestic Arguments” by Leonardo Dudreville